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Life-sized Carving of Ivory-billed Woodpecker!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Carving

A life-sized carving of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in flight! A wonderful piece that my son is absolutely thrilled to now have hanging in his room. My (rather shy) son is holding the piece here.

February 11th, 2004…Gene Sparling was canoeing through the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. A very large, very unusual woodpecker flew towards him and landed in a tree about 60 feet away.  Knowing it was an unusual bird, he posted a possible Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting on a website. Sixteen days later, two curious ornithologists from Cornell visited the location, and were rewarded with a definitive sighting of the bird!  A bird thought to be extinct…yet here was a confirmed sighting by respected and experienced ornithologists. In the next year and a half, Cornell researchers had 5 more sightings of the bird in the same general area.

I still remember the day when the sightings were publicly announced. I was at work, and we had visitors all week.  As we were getting ready to head back into a meeting room, one of them came up to me very excitedly (knowing I’m a birder), and said “did you see the news??!?!”. I still remember the goosebumps as he told me about the “re-discovery” of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the forested wetlands of Arkansas. In the subsequent weeks and months, a research group from Auburn identified Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the panhandle of Florida. An elated birding world celebrated the sightings.  And then…

Nothing. Nothing, as in no clear, definitive photos of the species. With a handful of sightings, that’s hardly a surprise to a bird photographer like myself. For example, Red-headed Woodpeckers are very common around here.  I see them about 50% of the days when I take gravel roads to work in the summer. And yet despite many attempts to photograph them over the years, I have precious few photos.  They have a tendency to cling to a telephone pole or tree, and hop to the backside of it, placing the tree between the camera and themselves!  With maybe a dozen half-way decent sightings of an Ivory-billed in the 2004-2006 time frame, I’m not surprised no definitive photo was obtained.

But since then, there have been very few (credible) reports of the bird, and nothing as definitive as the sightings from dedicated ornithologists from Cornell and Auburn. Even worse, since then, many others have rebelled against the Cornell and Auburn sightings, claiming they were faked, either by a good-faith mistake, or by some weird evil intention. The one aspect of birding (and humanity!) that I absolutely DESPISE…mean-spirited people who love nothing more than tearing down the accomplishments of others. Some well known birders published their opinions about the sightings, claiming wrong-doing by the researchers who saw the birds. That spiteful, small-minded, petty hate/jealousy has since infected the debate, with far too many people dismissing the original sightings as faked.  There’s a history here, as sightings of the bird going back decades have been decried as fakes, even when photographs were obtained. The best example…Fielding Lewis took very clear photos of a female Ivory-billed in 1971. George Lowery, head of the American Ornithological Union, excitedly presented those photos to the group’s yearly meeting…and he was greeted by catcalls and jeering.  Even the most respected ornithologists in the world aren’t immune for the mean-spirited, EVIL treatment from the jealous birding crowd who will never accept a sighting regardless of the evidence.

In the years since the Auburn and Cornell sightings, I’ve tried to follow the story, looking for evidence of additional sightings. One website I look at is “Ivory-Bills Live???!”. During the early years after the Cornell sightings, the site and others had many enthusiastic updates, and it seemed like better confirmed evidence of the survival of the species was just around the corner. As the years have gone by, that enthusiasm has waned and the reports have become few and far between, but I still check sites like this quite often.

Over the summer I checked Ivory-Bills Live, and saw a post about some beautiful Ivory-billed Woodpecker carvings that were being done by a Dean Hurliman in Burlington, Iowa. The post stated that he was going to finish perhaps 8 more, bringing his total to about 50 of his carvings that were in the hands of birders and other collectors. The post had some words from Dean, saying he was looking for homes for his final set of carvings, and to send him a note if there was interest.

Given the fascination I had with Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, I immediately thought of sending an email to Dean, but more for my son than for myself. My son is a teenager now and my part-time birding/fishing/rockhounding/outdoor buddy!  He already had a bird painting hanging in his room, one he bought with his own money while we were on vacation. He also had some small carved birds he bought. I thought, what better way to continue that “spark” for a budding young birder, than having this unique piece?

I crafted an email to Dean, noting where the carving would end up, and hoping that it would continue that birding spark in my son. I was hoping it would become one of his most prized possessions.  To my surprise, Dean responded, and said he would start work on a carving to send our way!  The carving arrived today…what a beautiful creation!  What a magnificent creature! What a great rendition! I absolutely adore the pose, and Dean has it perfectly balanced for hanging. When hung, it’s in the perfect position, as a bird gaining altitude after taking off in flight.

The carving now occupies a place of HONOR in my son’s bedroom, hanging from the ceiling in the “bird corner”, along with the painting he bought. Dean Hurliman…THANK YOU SO MUCH for your beautiful work! You have a heart of gold for doing this, and have you yourself become part of the lore of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker carving

The final display location for the carving, in the “bird corner” of my son’s bedroom. I can think of no better item to get a budding birder excited about the hobby.

 

Blizzard-inspired Drawing – American Woodcock

I don’t draw a lot any more…perhaps twice a year at most.  Not sure why, as I really enjoy it when I do drag out all the colored pencils and give it a go.  With the blizzard this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to draw. The species is actually inspired BY the blizzard.  American Woodcocks show up here in early April, and are already on their breeding grounds. They’ve already been doing their spectacular, unique display flights in the late evenings, spiraling up into the sky and diving back down, producing series of twittering and tweeting sounds as they go.  They normally feed heavily on earthworms.  When the blizzard hit, I remembered the posts of people seeing their displays here already this spring, and was wondering how they’d handle the blizzard. Inspiration leading to this, a colored pencil drawing of an American Woodcock.

American Woodcock Drawing - Scolopax minor

Colored pencil drawing of an American Woodcock – By Terry Sohl

Costa’s Hummingbird – Drawing

I have had zero motivation to do any drawing this year. Literally. The last time I drew anything…New Year’s Eve of this past year. Unfortunately, I’ve also not been very motivated to go out and do much bird photography lately (hence the long time between blog updates).  Today, I was planning on going out, but it was a gloomy, drippy day.  To try to get over my funk, I thought I’d just ignore the crappy news of the world, pick up my pencils, and draw a bit while listening to baseball.

Here’s the result. Not my favorite, and I admit I was getting antsy at the end and just wanted to finish, so there’s no vegetation or background to speak of. One of my favorite species though…a Costa’s Hummingbird. We don’t get them in South Dakota, but we’ve seen them many times on our trips down to Arizona.

Costa's Hummingbird - Calypte costae

Colored pencil drawing of a Costa’s Hummingbird male

Changing things up — Drawing “Oscar”

"Oscar" - Pencil drawing

“Oscar”, looking up from the carpet with his beautiful puppy-dog eyes. Click for a larger view.

I drew in high school, when I took elective art classes most semesters.  I drew a little bit in college, when during my “sports nut” phase, I mostly drew 1) baseball players, and 2) Nebraska Cornhusker things. They were all black-and-white photos, using just a basic #2 pencil.  And then…I stopped drawing, for 25 years or so.  It was 4 or 5 years ago I started, and it started out as a kind of way to “fill in” the gaps for the bird species that I didn’t have photos for. I’ve been working on getting individual species pages for all ~980 or so species that have been seen in North America. I have personal photos of about half of those, but needed images for my species pages for the other half.  I do often use freely available photos from other photographers, but I thought I’d also try personally drawing some of the species. I also started drawing in color for the first time in my life. It took some getting used to, but I started getting some bird drawings that I was happy with.

For the last 5 years, that’s all I’ve drawn…birds!  I thought I’d change things up and try something new.  We have the two sweetest rescue dogs on the planet…”Oscar” and “Felix”.  They are INCREDIBLY photogenic!  There was one photo in particular of Oscar that I thought make for a nice drawing.  He was sprawled out on the carpet napping, woke up, and looked up with his puppy-dog eyes.

This one took a while!  The better part of 2 days, mostly because I was trying things I wasn’t used to trying.  Dogs don’t have feathers!  I’ve gotten halfway decent at feathers, but it was a different ballgame trying to represent the features and fur of a dog. It turned out better than I thought it would…Felix is next up!

New Drawing – Bachman’s Warbler

Bachman's Warbler - Vermivora bachmanii

A male and female Bachman’s Warbler. Again, sadly, a drawing of a species I’ll never see. They went extinct 20-30 years ago.

I have SO loved the holidays we’ve had.  The usual festivities have of course been nice, but what made it even more special is that both my wife and I took off the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Lazy days, playing board games with our son, watching Harry Potter movies…just wonderful.  It was also a nice break that gave me time to do some drawing.  Since I started drawing 5 years ago, I haven’t done that much…maybe 25-30 drawings?  For 2016 I believe the grand total going into December was 2.  Over the last week, I’ve had the opportunity to do 2 more, first a Labrador Duck, and now over the last few days, a pair of Bachman’s Warblers.

Do you sense a theme?  Labrador Duck, Bachman’s Warbler, and in the past, I’ve also drawn Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parakeet, and Great Auk. Yes, those are all species that have gone extinct.  Ever since I started drawing, my primary goal was to fill in the gaps for species that I didn’t have photos for.  Of all the things I’ve drawn, I believe there are only 4 species of birds I have photos for (Northern Saw-whet Owl, Blackburnian Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird).  All the rest tend to be rarities, extinct birds, or in some cases, more common birds that have eluded my camera lens.

Unlike most of the other extinct ones, Bachman’s Warbler are a species that I at least could have theoretically seen in my lifetime.  Confirmed breeding occurred in multiple locations up until at least the 1960s, and individual birds were seen up until 1988, when a unconfirmed report occurred in Louisiana.  They appeared to be habitat specialists that used canebrakes and palmetto areas, habitats that disappeared throughout much of the Southeast as commercial forestry and urban land uses converted natural habitats.

I don’t think I’ve done this before, where I’ve drawn both a male and female in one drawing.  Was pretty pleased with how it came out.  I admit I still suck at drawing habitat, trees, branches, leaves, flowers, or other background elements that might make the photo more aesthetically pleasing.  “Bird on a stick” seems to be my style right now!

New Drawing – Labrador Duck

Labrador Duck - Camptorhynchus labradorius

Colored pencil drawing of a Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius). Click for a larger view.

What a wonderful Christmas Eve!  Very relaxing with not much for any of us to do.  Well, other than our furnace conking out yet again, and having to wait for Mr. Furnace Fixing Dude.  Other than that though, it has been a fantastic day.  I haven’t drawn anything for a few months, so thought I’d draw while my wife and son cooked and listened to Christmas music.  I started drawing, and after awhile when my son was going to go downstairs to watch video games, I half-jokingly said “Want to draw a duck too?” Much to my surprise, he said yes!  I love it!  For his project, we simply typed “Draw Duck” in Google, and there were a number of beginner type projects that showed how to draw a duck. It was so wonderful, drawing with him by my side!.

For my project for the day, I chose something I’ve wanted to try for a while…a Labrador Duck.  Since I started drawing a few years ago, most of the birds I’ve drawn have been species that I don’t have photos for.  It’s a nice way to fill the empty slots on the species pages on my main website!  Labrador Duck is a species I have a web page for, but there’s a pretty obvious reason I don’t have an accompanying photo of my own…they went extinct in the 1800s.  One reason I haven’t taken on a Labrador Duck is that it’s hard just finding decent reference images.  There are a few photos online of some stuffed specimens from the 1800s, but given when they went extinct, there are no photos of a “real” Labrador Duck.  This is thus based on the stuffed specimens and some of the species descriptions I’ve seen.

It SHOULD be pretty accurate!  Plumage-wise, it matches the taxidermy specimens quite well.  The feet are tough (I hate drawing feet anyway), but one stuffed specimen had feet that were pretty close to this color, a dark muddy-deep-red with blackish webbing between the toes.

Fun drawing the Labrador Duck, even more fun doing it with my son at my side! Here’s wishing you all have an equally wonderful Christmas!

Picking up the pencils…

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Drawing - By Terry Sohl

Colored pencil drawing of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a honeysuckle plant. Click for a larger view.

Yeah, I haven’t blogged since May.  Yeah, I haven’t really worked on my website since May.  In fact, I just haven’t done much BIRDING since May, and no photography to speak of.  I took on some projects this summer that took FAR longer than I anticipated, and generally have kept busy with other activities.  It’s not the best timing, given that summer has come and gone and we’re now moving towards the cold, relatively birdless hell that typifies a South Dakota winter.  However, after a break, I’m getting back into the swing of things with the website, photography, and…even drawing.

I wish I were more motivated to draw. I enjoy the outcome, but admit that drawing to me sometimes seems like a chore, rather than a fun activity.  There are 3 competing personality characteristics that come into play when it comes to drawing: 1) a lack of patience, 2) a desire to finish an activity quickly, and 3) a bit of a perfectionist streak.  That’s not a great combination of attributes when it comes to drawing, as ideally, I’d be able to draw something very quickly, yet have it be of relatively high quality.  As I’ve improved in my drawing over the years (at least I’d like to think I have improved!), I find that I’m going slower and am more meticulous in trying to capture all the details in a bird.  Therein lies the comment about drawing sometimes seeming like a “chore”….I just can’t finish quickly any more, and I get tired of drawing after a little bit.

I did recently have a free Saturday, with no family around and no real tasks on my plate.  After about a 1 1/2 year hiatus, I did drag out the pencils.  Given that we are transitioning into fall, I thought I’d commemorate my long photography-, bird-, and blogging-free summer by drawing my favorite summer yard visitor, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  It’s usually around May 7th when they first show up in my yard, with males typically the first to arrive.  We’re on the very edge of their breeding range, but they do clearly breed here, as I have them around all summer, and by early July, I inevitably start seeing juvenile hummingbirds in the yard.  By mid-August, i typically stop seeing males, but young and female hummingbirds are still very frequent yard visitors. Numbers slowly trend down from there, and by the last week of September, I’ve typically seen my last Hummingbird for the year.

I’ve done all of our landscaping myself, and have planted a number of items that attract hummingbirds.  However, their favorite plants are the multiple honeysuckles we have in the yard. My favorite Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo is of a beautiful male, hovering in front of a honeysuckle blossom in our yard.  This drawing is a nod to that photo.

I admit that as is typical, my patience was wearing thin as I worked on this one.  I spent about 5 hours drawing the hummingbird itself.  It’s always the bird itself that I enjoy drawing the most.  I never am fond about putting in other elements, such as the honeysuckle blooms here.  Thus, after about 5 hours of working on the bird, I admit I rushed through the drawing of the honeysuckle. Once again, while I was generally pleased with how the bird itself turned out, by the end I just wanted to be DONE, and drawing had turned into a chore.

Which means it will probably be another  1 1/2 years before you see me post another drawing out here.  🙂

Drawing – White-eared Hummingbird

White-eared Hummingbird

Colored pencil drawing of a White-eared Hummingbird, a species that in the U.S. is found only on occasion in far southern Arizona.

A nice relaxing weekend at home (my favorite kind).  The weather this fall has been spectacular, with crisp cool nights and sunny cool to warm days.  Yesterday was a day of fishing with my son.  Not a huge amount of success, although he did tie into a big carp and got a real kick out of battling it for a while.

Today, a day at home. Thought I’d get back to drawing so got out the equipment this morning and rew this White-eared Hummingbird.  If you just looked at the species I drew, you’d probably think I lived somewhere tropical, given that I love drawing hummingbirds and other species I don’t typically get a chance to see in South Dakota.  There is a method to the madness though, in terms of choosing what to draw.  I typically draw things that I don’t have photos of!  It fills a needed gap on my regular website!  Given that I have species description pages for every species seen in North Dakota, I need some image for each, and drawings work nicely when I don’t have a photo.

I also chose a “rare” U.S. hummingbird because I have a work trip coming up next month to Tucson.  I’ll likely take a couple of vacation days on my own, and go out birding.  November isn’t a great time to look for Hummingbirds, as it’s really summer when you get the biggest variety, and most chance to see a rare one that’s made it’s way up to southern Arizona from their more normal range in Mexico.  But there will be some hummingbirds around.  This is a White-eared Hummingbird, a species normally found in Mexico, but sometimes found in far southern Arizona.

I don’t know why I don’t draw more.  It always seems like a chore to get all the equipment out and devote several hours to it.  But I’m always so happy when I’m doing it and when I’m done. I’m more pleased with how this one turned out, than for most I do.

Saw-whets are a’ comin’!!! For now, a drawing…

Colored pencil drawing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl - Aegolius acadicus - By Terry Sohl

A colored pencil of drawing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl. I couldn’t wait until they arrived for the winter, so in the meantime sat down and drew one.

Last winter was a blast.  OK, that’s not something you typically say when you live in frigid South Dakota, but I really enjoyed last winter, and am looking forward to the cold weather again.  The reason?  Northern Saw-whet Owls!! Prior to last winter, I’d seen them on rare occasion, when I went to the Pierre area. It was a quite a few years ago when birders in the area started looking for them in cedar tree thickets near the Missouri River.  It takes quite a bit of work to find one however.  Looking for Saw-whet owls typically involves bush-whacking through dense cedar thickets, looking on the ground and on tree branches for the tell-tale “white-wash” that accumulates when the little owls use the same roost day after day.

When I say I’d seen them on “rare occasion”, it was literally ALWAYS finding a bird that someone else had found.  Oh sure, I’d given it the ol’ college try.  Prior to last winter, there were a number of times that I myself would go tromping through cedar thickets in Pierre, trying to find the little owls.  I was great at finding roosts where they USED to be!  As for finding a live owl?  Not so much.

I think people always suspected Northern Saw-whet Owls were much more widely distributed in South Dakota in the winter, but actual reports were few, likely due tot he effort involved in actually finding one.  Last winter I was determined to 1) actually find my “own” Saw-whet owl, and 2) do so right here near Sioux Falls, rather than making the 3 1/2 hour drive to Pierre, where they’re known to be found.  It wasn’t very encouraging at first.  And when I say “at first”, I mean there were probably about 10 fruitless trips trudging through cedar tree thickets, looking for owls.  The story was much like my attempts in Pierre…I was GREAT at finding owl pellets and whitewash, but wasn’t finding the owls themselves.

That all changed in January when I finally found my first Northern Saw-whet Owl in southeastern South Dakota.  It was at Newton Hills State Park, and he wasn’t alone!  On that truly magnificent day, I found not one, but four different Saw-whet Owls, all in the typical cedar thicket habitat that was similar to where they had been found for years in Pierre.  At least according to “eBird” reports, these were the first Saw-whet Owls reported in this part of the state.  The rest of the winter was great, going back to visit previously found Saw-whets (they tend to have roosting site fidelity, using the same sites for many days in a row), and finding new ones.  I ended up finding a few more at Newton Hills that winter, and then also started finding them  around Lake Alvin, just south of Sioux Falls.  For the winter, at least 9 individual over-wintering owls were found.

Just in the past few days bird banders in the area reported capturing and banding the first migrating Saw-whet owls of the season.  They’re here!  Or, at least they’re starting to arrive!  I’ll probably wait a couple of weeks before heading out to actually look for one, giving them a little more time to arrive, giving a little more time for the whitewash and pellet evidence to accumulate.  In the meantime, last weekend in my excitement for the coming winter, I did a colored pencil drawing of a Northern Saw-whet Owl, using a photo of one from last winter as a guide.

I can’t wait!  The owls are coming! The owls are coming!!  🙂

Back in the swing…

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger - Drawing by Terry Sohl

Colored pencil drawing of a Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger.

June of 2 years ago.  That’s the last time I’ve touched a pencil.  June 8th, to be exact.  I started a drawing of a Black Skimmer, a species I’d only seen a few times, and had never gotten a good photo of.  I thought I’d do a quick and dirty drawing for my website, so I started that evening. I got about halfway done before deciding to finish in the morning.

It was that next morning that I woke up feeling very achy, joints hurting, with my eyes stuck shut from being so dry.  Just like that, overnight, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Sjogren’s Syndrome.  All of my drawing equipment and my half-finished Black Skimmer drawing were put away in a drawer.  And there they lay forgotten for the next 2 years, 3 months, and 18 days.

No, “forgotten” isn’t the right word.  I occasionally remembered the drawing.  I occasionally thought about picking up a pencil and starting to draw again. But I couldn’t bring myself to do so.  Drawing, and this Black Skimmer image, were associated in my mind with the onset of Sjogren’s.  Every time I thought about starting to draw again, it brought me back to June 8th, 2013, and all the “fun” physical symptoms I’ve had since.  And thus the pencils sat for over 2 years.

This past weekend I picked them up again, and finished the drawing.  My biggest issue right now are my eyes.  Very dry, gets worse as the day goes on, which makes it hard sometimes for me to even want to keep them open, and also makes things blurrier and blurrier as the day progresses.  Not ideal for drawing, with either blurry eyes or closed eyes.  I think my drawing strategy will usually have to be doing it in the morning, or up to mid-afternoon at the latest, before my eyes start to get really bad for the day.

In any event, the pencils have been taken out of storage, the Black Skimmer has been completed (as has another drawing, which I’ll post later).

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